'Arab Gulf moment' is trend here to stay, says academic

Leading political academic says now is an unprecedented period in history for the UAE and the other states that make up the GCC.

Sharjah- April 20, 2009 - Dr. Abdulkhaleq Abdulla speaking at a conference on national identity at the Sharjah Women's College in Sharjah April 20, 2009. (Photo by Jeff Topping/The National)  *** Local Caption ***  JT007-0420-IDENTITY IMG_7471.jpg
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DUBAI // The world's gaze continues to be trained on the Arab Spring but a leading UAE academic says another major trend is under way in the region: the Arab Gulf moment.

This is the name given by Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a professor of political science at UAE University, to an unprecedented period in the history of the UAE and the other states that make up the GCC.

He argues that they have left their old peripheral status behind and now wield enormous power as they take centre stage in Arab politics.

Prof Abdulla's comments are recorded in a book published by the Kuwait Programme, a 10-year international study of the GCC states, which he refers to as the Arab Gulf States (AGS).

He describes the policy of rapid development spearheaded by Dubai and the rest of the UAE as a trendsetter in the Gulf.

"The emergence of Dubai as the new hub and centre of growth, innovation and modernity captured the regional imagination, and heightened competition among the AGS for a fresh round of fast-track economic growth," he writes.

He notes the appearance of a middle class that did not exist in the region previously, and adds: "The Emirati middle class exhibits the most satisfaction and greatest social recognition from employment, feeling that hard work and ambition can bring career advancement."

Prof Abdulla says the AGS have a high standard of living and enjoy a comparatively good quality of life. He quotes research that says 86 per cent of UAE citizens express strong satisfaction with their lives and feel optimistic about the future.

But the six Gulf countries face significant challenges, he says, such as their vulnerability to regional tensions.

One of the major challenges he identifies is the demographic imbalance in the Gulf states, with the percentage of citizens looking set to drop in the coming years.

But he concludes: "It appears that the Gulf moment is here to stay, and to flourish for a long time to come."

Prof Abdulla is one of 22 academics who have worked on The Transformation of the Gulf, the first book to be published by the Kuwait Programme.

The programme is funded by the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Science and was set up to study development, governance and globalisation in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar.

Hosted by the London School of Economics (LSE), it is designed to support postdoctoral researchers and doctorate students develop academic links between the LSE and Gulf institutions, and hold lectures, seminars and conferences.

Another contributor, Anoushiravan Ehteshami, also notes the growing regional influence of some GCC states, including the UAE. In a chapter on security and strategic trends in the Middle East, he says: "Qatar, the UAE and, to a lesser extent, Kuwait have raised their diplomatic game and are now able to project influence.

"These countries are said to be emerging as new influential actors in their own right."

Kristian Ulrichsen, the book's co-editor, said the rapid pace of change in the Gulf had fascinated researchers.

"You can see socio-economic changes that have taken decades in other contexts being compressed into a matter of years," he said.

The Transformation of the Gulf: Politics, Economics and the Global Order, edited by David Held and Kristian Ulrichsen, Routledge, Dh153.